Au revoir Monsieur Saint Laurent
The idea to dress the Barbie doll in high fashion came naturally to BillyBoy*. In the early 80s, she had become to his eyes, a true bimbo dressed in tasteless fashions or if not, into a fairy tale princess in pink fluorescent nylon aimed at the tastes of 3 year old children. The subject and the aim of his book was to place the history of Barbie in its sociological context (hence Her Life And Times) and the influence French high fashion had on her earliest incarnation beginning in 1959. The haute couture chase started as a game, with the help of friend and ex-fashion model and socialite, BillyBoy*s close friend Bettina Graziani. The first models for Barbie were created by New York art patron and socialite Christophe de Menil who was also designing luxurious and stylish fashions at the time, sometimes accessorized by French sculptor and jeweller Claude Lalanne. The next ones were created by Emanuel Ungaro. When Yves Saint Laurent accepted to dress Barbie, the long train of almost all high fashion houses and designers followed. At this time Christian Lacroix was the new head designer for the house of Jean Patou, in which his baroque and daring creations were shaking up the glorious old house, Jean Paul Gaultier had just launched his skirt for men and Thierry Mugler was turning each one of his fashion défilés into major shows anticipating a new era of French fashion.
One has to remember that this idea to contact the parisian haute couture houses and all the prominent and even new vanguard of fashion designers for Barbie was a precedent at the time: it was all so unexpected and surprisingly daring a concept (it was then used several times by others in the following years, with more or less success, even on Babar and Snoopy). In France also, Barbie was looked upon in general as a simple toy with no link whatsoever with the glamorous world of fashion. When Yves Saint Laurent not only accepted to play the game but to feature on the Barbie doll the key creations of his career, it was like a seal of approval and the guarantee of success. As I said, the whole metier and milieu followed the YSL locomotive. This project became an exhibition which BillyBoy* named "BillyBoy* - The New Theater of Fashion" (see text by Jacques Mouclier). A real train, sponsored by Mattel, took, along with Mattel Toys, the BillyBoy* Barbie Collection and the BillyBoy* - The New Theater Of Fashion which amounted to hundreds of dolls and documents. It toured the main cities of France, with a tremendous success. The same happened in the USA with equal success, the following year. American designers had joined the band wagon, and even Andy Warhol produced, on BillyBoy*'s suggestion a portrait of Barbie, his last American icon and named it "Portrait of BillyBoy". The story as of why is well known now.
Published in the French catalogue of the exhibition and its English version for America, hundreds of thousands of these little booklets were given away freely to visitors on the Mattel-sponsored tours of the exhibition in France and in the USA. The foreword by Yves Saint Laurent has been read by millions of readers and visitors and the train showing this amazing haute couture collection was seen in places where people had no idea what haute couture even meant. When the book was published, this foreword opened each time the section of the Barbie dolls dressed by the finest couturiers and designers of the planet. It is still today an amazing testimony of an era, when haute couture was still alive and for which these dolls are a unique testimony. Mr Saint Laurent was a major actor in the realization of this project and of its success.
I remember the utterly sublime exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart André in Paris around 1993 of the dresses and fashions from the Imperial Russia, lent by the Hermitage in Moscow. It was entirely sponsored by the House of Saint Laurent and the last exhibition curated by the late Stephen de Pietri, friend of BillyBoy* and also in charge of the YSL archives. It was a true delight, something that you can see only once in a life time and that I could never forget.
Then, in 1994, BillyBoy* and I had already left Paris for the seaside, in Normandy, in the delicious old-fashioned resort and all-so-Proustian: Trouville. Bettina was having her birthday party hosted at Régine's in Paris, and of course we came. I believe it was one of, if not the last private public appearances where Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent came. Everybody wanted to be photographed with him, from Kylie Minogue to Etienne Daho and he was glowing with joy, in his shy and graceful way.
Unfortunately, I never had the privilege to attend one of Yves Saint Laurent haute couture défilés. Why, I still cannot figure it out, since I saw many other famous houses defilés for more than a decade while BillyBoy* and I where living and working in Paris, and many times we did our own creations for the haute couture defilés of reknown names such as Emanuel Ungaro, Hanae Mori, Bernard Perris, Francesco Smalto,Thierry Mugler...etc., etc., etc. Thinking one has plenty of occasion or time to do certain things was always one of my main flaws. It is something I regret deeply, because his way of showing haute couture was in the purest tradition and each time a true celebration of beauty and high style.
My only encounter with YSL, aside from being at Bettina's birthday party with BillyBoy* is a very funny one. It was around 1980, at Le Palace, the fashionable nightclub of the time, in Paris. I was in my androgyne period (don't ask), sitting alone in a booth on the balcony sides, looking at the people downstairs.Yves Saint Laurent came down towards me with a group of handsome young men and they all sat in front of me, after having politely asked is the room was free, while there was plenty of free room all around. I answered gracefully with a gesture of my hand inviting them to have a seat, they said thank you and they started rolling joints. I did not say anything, just nodded to him politely with a smile as you'd do to an idol or royalty, not trying to be involved in anyway. It lasted for fifteen minutes or so and I sat very calmly, being very discreet. Then they got up to go away, somewhere else and Mr Yves Saint Laurent came to me smiling and gave me the joint that one of the boy had just lit for him, and left with his group of Adonis'. These are the things that could happen only at Le Palace, alors...Well I should have framed this joint but guess what? I smoked it peacefully and then left for home, it was an almost metaphysical experience!
On an amusing note, sometime in the mid 1980s, my friend Dorothée Lalanne, daughter of sculptor François-Xavier Lalanne (also a great friend of YSL) told me that a big magazine was looking for a young man somehow evoking the young YSL - she often said that I looked like him (a few years before I was wearing very similar glasses)- So I had a meeting arranged with photographer David Seidner - who did at the time the photos for his perfume Paris and later the photographs of the Théatre de la Mode dolls- over a cup of coffee in some café in Les Halles. But I guess I wasn't the part because Seidner apparently did not choose me as I never heard back from him, though he was very polite and charming. I never heard of the reportage either, maybe it did not come through after all. I'd see David often afterwards and it was never mentioned.
Yves Saint Laurent was not only a master and a genius, but he was someone I really, truly admired: from my early teenage years, when I was wearing his first Eau de toilette pour Hommes (what would I give, to find one last bottle of this flagrance from my teenage years!). It was launched with this amazing naked portrait of him by Jean Loup Sieff, quite a revolution in the 1970s. What a beautiful message it was for a lonely and sensitive young thing like myself. It was like a confidential clin d'oeil and reminder that life is always much bigger than it seems and an open window for dreams of the the best kind.
Merci Monsieur Saint Laurent, merci Yves!
Lala JP Lestrade, 2009.